UVa Board Tightens the Screws on Student Tuition

Gosh, I can’t remember. Was part of Mr. Jefferson’s founding vision for UVa to create an unaffordably elitist institution?

The University of Virginia Board of Visitors voted Thursday to hike tuition for in-state undergraduates by 3.8% and out-of-staters by 4.8% next school year. The vote marked a victory for President Teresa Sullivan and others whose vision is to achieve academic excellence by spending heavily on faculty recruitment, information technology and R&D facilities, and extracting wealth from university students in order to pay for it.

The vote occurred the same day Governor Bob McDonnell released a letter to state university administrators and board asking them to limit tuition hikes to the Consumer Price Index.

Several board members worried that failure to jack up tuition might put the school in financial jeopardy, reported the Washington Post. “From a business perspective, you are not giving yourself a lot of room to wiggle,” said John L. Nau III, a Texas beer distributor. “It seems to me that we are living right on a razor’s edge.” Nau made no effort to reconcile that statement with the fact that UVa’s endowment increased 28.4% in 2011-2012, bringing it to $4.8 billion, the best performance of the 32 largest university endowments in the country, according to Forbes Magazine.

The Post article mentioned only two board members by name who opposed the tuition hikes: Dr. Edward D. Miller and Rector Helen Dragas. Dragas, who runs a Virginia Beach real estate development company founded by her father, has been viciously assailed for being an out-of-touch elitist for her role in the controversy surrounding Sullivan’s resignation and reinstatement last year. In this instance, the out-of-touch elitist was one of the few willing to go to the mats to protect the interests of middle-class Virginians.

“We cannot stay on an unsustainable tuition increase path,” Dragas told the board in explaining her vote. “A lot of institutions across the country, a lot of states, are holding the line on tuition this year.” UVa administrators, she argued, have long used decreased state funding as a “scapegoat” for ever-increasing spending.

Amplifying the air of unreality surrounding the debate, a few dozen activists gathered in the Rotunda to demand better pay for low-level staff members, pushing for the so-called living wage. No one protested the decision to jack up students’ tuition, room and board at nearly double the inflation rate.


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34 responses to “UVa Board Tightens the Screws on Student Tuition”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Perhaps, the charges of self serving business interests earlier leveled against Rector Dragas were misplaced. They should be filed instead against her self righteous opponents within the administration and certain faculty. (see comment 1 to “And while I’m on the subject…” found on this website.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      recap of above referred comment 1:

      You’re right about this. Where is administrative bloat being shed? Nowhere that I can find.

      Instead, student tuition hikes are mainlined into the pockets of those who either run the school, or do their research there, often for the purpose of getting paid from federal contract work. This is a business not a school. Meanwhile, any savings found are skimmed off the top and collected into a pot to mainline those funds too back into administration and research.

      The result is that the only people who are taking the financial hits are the students, their families, and the taxpayers, and those who teach students.

      In short, UVA is being turned into a business being built to serve those who work there, rather than those who pay tuition to study and learn there.

      Thus the charges of self serving business interests leveled against Rector Dragas were ill-founded. Now, they should now be filed against her self righteous opponents within the administration and certain faculty.

    2. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      For more background and details behind what is really going on here, please see comments (including last several comments) found at:


  2. Neil Haner Avatar
    Neil Haner

    I thought Dragas got in trouble, not for what she was trying to accomplish (fat-trimming a bloated institution), but rather for how she tried to accomplish it (treating the Rotunda and Carr’s Hill like the back rooms of the Roman Senate).

    It’s a shame we’ll never be able to debate her opinions and platforms on their merits, as they’ll forever be colored by her failed palace coup.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      That’s a good point. It’s beyond me why President Sullivan’s attempted removal should have anything to do with these current issues. I thought a UVA education taught its graduates how to think for themselves. Seems like a great deal of group think and mass movement behavior is going on here.

      For example, where’s the debate before the Alumni Fund hands over $3,500,000 to fund a central tenet of this four year plan?

  3. I think to a certain extent this is much ado about nothing… just shy of rearranging the deck chairs….

    Here’s the question. If someone can get a quality STEM degree for cheap – perhaps online – and they can pass the Professional Engineer qualification (or similar) then what would be the advantage of getting a UVA Engineer Degree?

    I think to a certain extent we’re talking about putting tail fins on dinosaurs to make them look more modern.

    I’ve asked before – what is the VALUE of a bricks and mortar degree verses a cheapo online degree?

    I do not blame UVA or the other Universities. They are like a lot of institutions that do not realize, refuse to acknowledge when they are turning into zombie institutions.

    They used to call them “prep” schools in the past, but the implication was that you got “more” than just an academic education by going to a school that provided other things.

    the big question is – how many people now days, can really afford it?

    many middle-income people sent their kids to college by getting a 2nd mortgage on their home – the equity in their home.

    in the past, that was a not unreasonable thing to do . you’d get your money back when the house increased in value and you paid down the principle.

    Now days, that strategy has shifted to govt-subsidized student loans – which is turning out to be, not sustainable, for more than a few people.

    the world has changed. we cannot go back. what’s the right path forward?

    Is it what UVA is doing?

    1. Ghost of Ted Dalton Avatar
      Ghost of Ted Dalton

      I think the problem is that online ed is hit or miss. I’ve read a couple of studies…..I think the reality is that online is a viable option for older folks who are looking for career advancement.

      Let’s be honest. Very few 18 year olds have the discipline to get a legitimate 4 year degree online.

      When you’re in your 30s and 40s and know that the courses you take can mean advancing in your career, you’re way more likely to have the discipline and focus needed to achieve success at online learning.

      I know there are a lot of very innovative folks looking at ways to make online learning more attuned to the average 18 y.o., but until they do, the bricks and mortar route is probably the best. I’d definitely go the community college route if I was a parent/student.

      1. so… the purpose of college is not pure education but instead some sort of personal academic structure (sort of like the military) except it costs like heck?

        and that’s how we justify the ever-increasing costs?

        I note – that educational tablet software is starting to make significant inroads in K-12 with particular success with the harder-to-teach kids, kids that are gifted, etc.

        to which I posit this:

        1. – is the way we “learn” also changing from one in which structure is a big part of it to one in which the “student” gets themselves enmeshed in the content with software that automatically “learns” how the student is learning and adjusts the lessons to suit their learning style?

        2. – Will kids who DO show initiative and commitment, in a tablet/internet world – quickly outpace kids who “need” a human instructor to give them “structure” and discipline they lack so they can learn in spite of these flaws?

        seriously. Are the schools like UVA, schools that “help” those that need academic structure and framework – for a price – while those, regardless of their age, that can learn just as well without that extra cost “structure” can do without?

        I had made a point earlier that there are lean and mean institutions of higher learning that have no big sports component, no widely-known “brand” and yet they deliver a good education at a much more reasonable price.

        I think the CENTER of education has shifted and where UVA used to be the sweet spot, it possibly is now on the fringe and may well end up a high-priced prep school for unmotivated kids of the wealthy.

        just an opinion and I’m sure it could and probably will be rebutted.

  4. Mr. Bacon certainly raises valid questions about the trajectory of tuition at public institutions of higher education. Indeed, the contributors to this blog could provide valuable input to the policy discussions surrounding the future of Virginia higher education. Do we “unleash” premier institutions, such as UVA, thereby collectively allowing them to pursue a private good model and price-to-market? Or, do we “restrain” their competitive tendencies, thereby expressing a collective preference for a public good model where they are subsidized with federal, state, and/or philanthropic dollars?

    Yet, to describe Ms. Dragas as someone willing to “go to the mats to protect the interests of middle-class Virginians” is, dare I say, absurd to the extreme. A review of her five-year tenure on the UVA board indicates that, with the exception of 2013, she has repeatedly voted for the very historical tuition increases she now decries.

    By all means, it is time for a robust discussion on the future of American higher education. But, a defender of the middle-class, Ms. Dragas is not. She is an adroit, albeit unconvincing, reformed populist seeking to repay the debts owed to her gubernatorial master.

    [As an aside, in his reference to the rate of inflation, Mr. Bacon fails to acknowledge the unfunded mandates handed down by the 2013 General Assembly to public institutions of higher education. The rate of inflation is only one cost driver to Virginia public higher education. It is important to address all cost drivers in any discussion of tuition increases.]

  5. Darrell Avatar

    The old way to pay for college. Kid gets a job, saves money.

    The newer old way to pay for college. Take out a second mortgage. Go into foreclosure.

    The newest old way to pay for college. Take out never die loans from governmental loan sharks. Cash in your retirement accounts to pay loans. Use SS to buy large quantities of cat food.

    The newest new way to pay for college. Get a great big credit card. File for bankruptcy the day after kids graduation.

    The smart way to pay for college. Make the kid take vocational/higher level courses in high school. Get them a job. Enroll them in an articulated agreement no name community college for the junk required courses. Use guaranteed admission agreements to bypass the BS. Kid still has UVa on their diploma. Sell the house. Head for Panama.

  6. Darrell has a way to distill things down to the basics! And I ADMIRE it even if I don’t always totally agree. Excessive Pontification is an evil.

    We have to be the most spoiled nation on earth. Other people literally give up their families to come here and do whatever work they have to do to survive and attend school while we ‘fret’ over whether UVA will remain a “proud” institution or whatever.

    I agree with the Dragas comment by K.T. When did Dragas “get” religion although I do think she and the rest of the BOV would be seriously remiss if they did not see the changing landscape and try to change course.

    HOW you do it CANNOT be by FIAT and cannot be done by coup-de-grace.

    it’s got to be a an open and forthright imperative – a dialogue where you educate and convince others that things do have to change.

  7. uvafieldstone Avatar

    My opinion is that Dragas and the BOV were absolutely correct in their decision to fire Sullivan and that becomes more and more clear by the day. Unfortunately, they were far too kind in their offer to allow her to resign with dignity. Had they taken the vote (if I have read the news accounts during the SACs probe correctly, it was 15-1 to fire Sullivan) the over-entitled faculty would not have been able to gather their forces and have their way with the “public” institution that they call their own.
    Time will tell that Helen Dragas was way ahead of her time in her vision and was unfairly burned at the cross.

  8. If the BOV was righteous in their vote to fire Sullivan, why do they now support her budget when Dragas does not?

    I think even if Dragas is correct, that she’s pushing too far, the wrong way.

    Sullivan is not a disaster by any stretch of the imagination. At 99 other Universities she would be just fine.

    the problem is that UVA is at a crossroads and Sullivan is a pretty typical status quo type person who, when she took the job (which was offered and by the BOV, who approved the hiring also) – she had no idea that UVA was “in crisis” and needed a “transformational” leader.

    I have to wonder who instead of Sullivan would fit that bill. Name 3 candidates that you think have the vision and skill-set to take UVA to a place it has never been before.

    If we back off enough from the blame game… can we see that this is not a Sullivan problem?

  9. uvafieldstone Avatar

    I don’t see where Sullivan got what she was asking for in the tuition debacle at all. She was asking for far more than she got. And I think there are many candidates with far more vision and skill sets than Teresa Sullivan. I think she was hired as an interim and the replacement strategy went bad. Let’s see if her wheels come off in the next year. I’m not sure she’s mature enough for the job.

  10. uvafieldstone Avatar

    I don’t see where Sullivan got what she was asking for in the tuition debacle at all. She was asking for far more than she got. And I think there are many candidates with far more vision and skill sets than Teresa Sullivan. I think she was hired as an interim and the replacement strategy went bad. Let’s see if her wheels come off in the next year. I’m not sure she’s mature enough for the job.

    1. reed fawell III Avatar
      reed fawell III

      “I don’t see where Sullivan got what she was asking for in the tuition debacle at all.”

      What in her four years plan did she not get? Where can I go to find that out? However available it many be, I’ve yet to see the full story on that question.

      1. We know that the administration pulled back a tuition differential called “fees” for 3rd & 4th years in most undergrad schools (they’re already in place @ McIntire & Engineering), which might have caused the plan to be voted down by the BOV.

        Good bad or indiff, Sullivan is staying. I don’t think anyone believes that MOOCs will fix what ails higher ed, and I question whether higher ed can fix higher ed. It may be time to recalculate what we expect from 18 year-olds before we invest our/their time/money. I’m archly libertarian, yet can imagine a huge advantage to mandated service to military/community for a couple of bridge years to adulthood. I would have hated the concept, but likely would have benefited enormously, and not squandered so much of my 4 years in college.

        1. reed fawell III Avatar
          reed fawell III

          Yes, the waste in higher education is appalling. And the benefit gained is far too meager for far too many students. Indeed colleges load them up with debt that cripples their future even their life.

          Its so bad that our universities refuse to test their students’ progress year by year in college, despite their our huge reliance on such tests in selecting students for admission, and touting their own standing based on how their students tested before they arrived at college.

          Yet higher education cost rise year after year, all in lock step with the decline in the service they provide to the students paying the bill. Meanwhile, education debt hobble students futures. Higher education’s new norm is student get crippling debt but no education.

          I believe that teacher’s unions bear much responsibility for our refusal to deal effectively with problems that beset many k-12 public school systems. These same issues now more and more confront higher education. Perhaps now even at some of our “Flagship” universities.

          For more on subject generally see the article titled “Inquisitor, Investigate Thyself” found in this website’s archives.

          1. Reed – are you purposely conflating higher Ed issues with K-12 issues?

            My view is that higher Ed is charging what they can get just like WalMart does. there is no magic here. It’s simple. They’re selling a product for which there is a strong demand and they sell it for what they can and spend it on the things they deem will make them more in demand.

            with respect to K-12 – how many states do NOT have unions vs states that do ? would you think there would be a correlation on performance with regard to whether unions or involved or not?

            I think there is ZERO correlation but I await your response.

            Remember by the way, that Massachusetts is number 1 in this country and number 7 in the world and has unions and states like Mississippi and other southern states do not have unions but their performance sucks big time.

        2. re: “the replacement strategy went bad”

          yup.. because the people executing it were incompetent which makes them not such good choices for further change IMHO.

  11. uvafieldstone Avatar

    In my view, the people executing it were extremely competent but perhaps not so sneaky and manipulative and willing to go to any lengths to continue the “status quo” that was so beneficial to their continued livelihood and comfortable lifestyle.

  12. So Sullivan was more competent about being sneaky and manipulative in responding to a sneaky and manipulative attack than Dragas was at initiating it?

    I still think that it’s not clear at all what Dragas wanted UVA to do . what was/is her vision? It was not a contest between two competing and well articulated visions but a contest between two personalities with personal agendas.

    For the record, I think Dragas sees the danger of UVA not changing but in terms of what she actually wants UVA to change to – it all got immersed in the wrestling match between her and Sullivan.

    If Dragas vision was a good one – that vision would survive become it’s own imperative no matter what happens to Dragas – or Sullivan.

    at the end of the day -we know not much other than the two don’t like each other.

  13. As a point of order, it is typically the role of a president to bring vision and leadership to a university, not its board. God help us when boards compete with presidents for that. At UVa, the BOV’s role is limited to something more supervisory, in my interpretation.

    1. Lift is quite right here. As I recollect the controversy, Dragas was not trying to impose her own vision for UVa’s future upon the university. She was concerned that Sullivan had no vision worthy of addressing the looming “existential threat” to public private higher education.

      With her latest plan, it does appear now that Sullivan has articulated a vision. The BoV really has little choice but to go along. The visitors fired her once, then reinstated her. They can hardly dump her again. But they probably would not be inclined to do so in any case. Most appear to be comfortable with UVa carving out a future as an elite teaching and research institution providing a superior educational experience to an elite student body. If it costs a lot more money, everyone is OK with that… everyone but the students and their parents.

      1. wait a minute. WHO hired Sullivan without first making sure they understood her “vision”?

        second, it takes MORE than ONE University President to pursue a vision.

        Did the BOV hire her without collaborating a vision between the two?

        Did the BOV make clear what THEIR vision was when they hired Sullivan?

        what do they call this? scapegoating? I have YET to see the BOV step up and say we expected ” this vision”. This is the vision we though we had agreed on with Sullivan when she was hired. Now she is doing X while our vision is Y.

        any of that present in the back and forth?

      2. James Cohen Avatar
        James Cohen

        The problem is not Sullivan, its the far left crony behind Sullivan who put her there for a short stint and took umbrage to her removal. Want names?

      3. James Cohen Avatar
        James Cohen

        “If it costs a lot more money, everyone is OK with that… everyone but the students and their parents.” And you forgot to add Helen Dragas who opposes any increases.

        Look at what happened at W&L.. The guy who hired Sullivan for a temporary stint was the prior UVa rector, W. Wynne. This attack on Dragas was Wynne’s angry negative energy old crony personal vendetta against her for removing HIS president. Dragas wanted to eliminate expensive non producing programs and make this gem of a University more accessible to the brightest minds in the commonwealth, not turn it into the elite school that those with more limited resources would have to grovel for access to while the wealthier get special privileges to buy their kid an education from our premier University.

  14. uvafieldstone Avatar

    Former board member Randall Kirk is quoted in a Washington Post article last fall as saying that Sullivan was sold to the board as an interim. They knew she wasn’t qualified but couldn’t find the right person. I’m sure Kirk wouldn’t have any good reason to make that up. He seemed perfectly comfortable being quoted in an article because he probably knew that every single person on that board knew he was telling the truth. When they tried to replace her, they faced a very organized “Old Guard”. The New York Times reported in September that former rector, Dubby Wynne, flew to the campus in June and set up a “war room” to assist in getting Sullivan reinstated. Perhaps to save himself the embarrassment because he hired her and sold her as an interim? Just a theory….

  15. what he said makes no sense … it makes the BOV look even more like a carload of clowns.

    did they really think they could establish her as a “temp” that they would remove at will when they were “ready”?

    Kirk makes the BOV sound like a bunch of idiots. He’d be better off keeping quiet.

  16. Another point of order is that the composition of a board changes every year. As terms end and begin, each year brings a new dynamic. The BOV you see now is not the same that agreed to request the president’s resignation, and that was not the same one that hired her. I bring this up not to aim blame, but to highlight that the cylcing is such that creating “vision” is not practical, and probably not desirable. The office of president is tooled for that. But one BOV’s idea of a leader could be at odds with the next BOV’s identification of need.

    1. does the BOV completely turn over? My impression is that it does not – on purpose – so that it’s overall vision – does not change whiplash style from one BOV to another.

      but let that aside for the moment and let’s look at what each BOV’s “vision” is (or not) and how it changes from one year or BOV composition to the next.

      is the vision thing THAT chaotic and dynamic?

      never made clear how Sullivan veered from what she was supposed to do when hired – right?

      it would seem that Lift and Uvafieldstone are arguing for a changing vision – whatever the current BOV happens to believe… and woe to the UVA President that does not swing with it.

      Who would you expect to find to lead UVA with that requirement?

      this sounds more and more like one giant CF.

  17. uvafieldstone Avatar

    And I will choose to agree to disagree.

  18. uvafieldstone Avatar

    Disagree with Larryg. Completely agree with Lift.

  19. uvafieldstone Avatar

    Agree with Lift. Disagree with Larryg.

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